Bill & Melinda Gates Join HIV Preventive Study

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and National Institutes of Health have joined forces with Johnson & Johnson to initiate the first efficacy study for an investigational mosaic HIV-1 preventive vaccine.

The collaboration will advance the potential prevention option, which is designed to be a ‘global vaccine’ that could prevent a wide range of viral strains responsible for the HIV pandemic.

The new, large-scale study (HVTN 705/HPX2008), also known as ‘Imbokodo’, will evaluate whether the investigational Janssen vaccine regimen is safe and able to reduce the incidence of HIV infection among 2,600 women in sub-Saharan Africa.

The initiation of ‘Imbokodo’ means that for the first time in over a decade, two vaccine efficacy studies are taking place at the same time. Another study, HVTN 702, is currently underway in South Africa to evaluate a different vaccine candidate.

The initiative coincides with the World AIDS Day celebrated on December 1 every year.

This year’s theme: ‘Everybody Counts’, advocates for access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines.

Although there have been great advances in HIV treatment and prevention in recent years, nearly two million people still become infected with HIV every year.

Paul Stoffels, Managing Director, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson, in a release pointed out that developing a vaccine against HIV is a top priority “and our best hope for a world without AIDS”, adding that finding an effective HIV vaccine to protect people at risk has been a major scientific challenge that the study could find a solution to.

“That’s why we’re joining forces with the world’s leading HIV researchers and global health advocates to help advance our experimental vaccine. Working together, our ultimate goal is to support efforts to make HIV history,” he added.

Prof Glenda Gray, CEO and President of the South African Medical Research Council and Chair of the Imbokodo study, explained that the study is a result of an undeterred public-private partnership committed to responding to ‘our formidable foe HIV’.

“Africa’s leadership role in bringing an end to the epidemic is documented in its ground breaking scientific research and evident in the dedicated contribution of its people. Our investigational vaccine is based on mosaic antigens that have been engineered using genes from a wide range of different HIV subtypes. The ultimate goal is to deliver a ‘global vaccine’ that could be deployed in any geographic region to help protect vulnerable populations at risk of infection,” said Johan Van Hoof, M.D., Janssen Vaccines & Prevention B.V. and Therapeutic Area Head, R&D, Infectious Diseases & Vaccines,” he mentioned.  HIV/AIDS continues to be one of the world’s most pressing global health challenges. In 2016, an estimated 37 million people were living with HIV-1 globally, and 1.8 million people became newly infected with the virus.

An estimated 790,000 new HIV infections occurred in eastern and southern Africa in 2016, where the new efficacy study is being conducted. In the United States, an estimated 1.1 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2014, and nearly 40,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2015.

According to UNAIDS, women and girls account for nearly 60 percent of people living with HIV in eastern and southern Africa.

By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri